Mike O’Malley: an Oregon State University ‘lifeforce’

Mary (left), Emmett O’Malley, Bridget O’Malley, Nell O’Malley and Mike O’Malley posing for a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France in August 2018. Mike O’Malley was a Senior Instructor in Oregon State University’s College of Education Double Degree program for over 20 years, and died on July 1 at 63 years old.

Cara Nixon, News Contributor

Beginning his time at Oregon State University as a part-time instructor in 1999, Mike O’Malley was not only well-known around campus, but was also considered a must-have teacher according to multiple students and community members.

As a senior instructor in the College of Education in the Double Degree program, O’Malley often took his efforts beyond the classroom and was known for his generosity. 

“I think when people talked to him, no matter what the interaction was, he just made them feel like a celebrity of active listening and asking questions,” Bridget O’Malley said of Mike, her father.

O’Malley, OSU instructor, colleague and friend to many, died on the morning of July 1 at age 63. 

O’Malley is survived by his wife of 34 years, Nell, and his daughter and son, Bridget and Emmett. 

Before joining the faculty at OSU, O’Malley had earned a Ph.D. in History of Education from OSU, a Master of Education with History Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

A post about his passing on the Facebook group Things Overheard at OSU is a testament to the legacy O’Malley left behind—the comments section is flooded with personal anecdotes, sentiments and discussions of his character and skills as an instructor and friend.

“The thing that’s been really moving the last couple days is the hundreds of people who’ve reached out who’ve only met him once [and] who have a really personal story about how he touched and affected them,” Emmett O’Malley said. “And I think that that, to me, is the signal of who he was.” 

Nell O’Malley, who is also a senior instructor in OSU’s College of Education, recalled her and her late husband’s life together before they came to Oregon. 

O’Malley, originally from Boston, Mass., first met Nell when he was working as a doorman on Beacon Street in Boston. At that time, he was reading constantly and considered gentle and shy. 

“He was not gregarious when I met him,” Nell O’Malley said. “Over the course of 34 years as he became a more capable and competent and effervescent teacher, he blossomed into this lifeforce.”

“Our relationship was built on laughter,” Nell O’Malley added. 

Emmett O’Malley wrote a blog post about his father’s passing, explaining the multiple sides of his character. 

“He was a man caught in between worlds, living on both ends of the spectrum on almost every principle and trait simultaneously: He was a perfectionist and an empath, a force of nature and a gentle giant, a fierce intellectual and a man of the people, the funniest man I ever knew and the most considerate listener you could possibly speak to,” Emmett O’Malley wrote. 

Bridget O’Malley always joked that her father was six going on 63, another testament to his duality.

“The intellect and wisdom of someone who was 63, and the maturity and kindness [of someone who was six],” Bridget O’Malley said.

Christina Steinberg was a student of O’Malley’s at OSU during the summer term of 2018, and she attested to his love of teaching and his students. 

“He cared about each and every student, and it showed by how invested he was in getting to know us all,” Steinberg said. “He supported our goals and dreams in life. He made it a point to make everyone feel welcomed.”

Mary Smallman, who currently works as an instructor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, knew O’Malley before he joined the OSU faculty. She met him as a student in West Albany’s night high school program, which he was the director and history teacher of at the time.

“He just was one of the most influential people that really helped me in the path that I ended up on,” Smallman said. “He was just funny and supportive, and he believed in you.”

Smallman, who had two kids when she finished the night school program, remembered O’Malley encouraging her to continue her education at OSU when she was considering opting out. He even helped her fill out the paperwork. 

“I just never had anyone in my corner like that,” Smallman said. 

O’Malley didn’t only impact his students, however. His colleagues are also feeling the effects of the loss of his presence. 

“Oregon State has lost a great teacher and advocate,” Sara Wright, a senior instructor in the College of Education, said in an email. “He worked tirelessly for students and adjunct faculty, and he never hesitated to speak his mind. When I felt low or discouraged, he was the first person I would call. I always left the conversation in a better mood, more sure of myself. I am at a loss now. I wish I could call him up right now and ask for his advice on this situation. That is who he was.”


Another colleague echoed similar sentiments. 

“Mike was a brilliant, compassionate, funny, soulful and loving person who made others happy just to be in his company,” Professor Emeritus Kenneth Winograd said in an email. “No question, students yearn for faculty who care deeply about their intellectual and emotional lives, and Mike exemplified this ethos. I hope Mike’s life will be an inspiration for us to be more caring, more thoughtful, more critical, in ‘community.’He will be missed.”

Students, faculty, friends and his family remember O’Malley as thoughtful, funny, inspiring and an integral part of the communities he touched.

“He was a teacher through and through… I think that if there’s one thing to convey, it’s that that was his identity,” Emmett O’Malley said. “And that was the thing he was proud of.” 

A funeral and mass will be held for O’Malley on July 16 at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s church in Corvallis, Ore. 

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